Yosemite National Park is known for soaring rock faces and unforgettable scenery. Part of what makes this park so beautiful is the Merced River that flows through Yosemite Valley.
The Merced River originated around 10 million years ago when the Sierra Nevada mountains were still being formed. In fact, the Merced and other waterways eroded the rock between the mountains, helping create the peaks and valleys we see today. Glacial activity was also a major factor in shaping the Sierra Nevada landscape. This includes the path of the Merced River. From the base of Clark Range at 8,017 feet above sea level, the Merced flows through Yosemite National Park and on until it eventually empties into the San Joaquin River. Its total journey spans 145 miles.
One of the most breathtaking pieces of the Merced River is where it crashes over two of Yosemite's famous waterfalls – Vernal and Nevada Falls. While some Yosemite waterfalls can only be seen during snowmelt in the spring, Vernal and Nevada Falls (together nicknamed the "Giant Staircase") flow all year. In fact, there are a series of hiking trails that allow visitors to climb to the top of both.
In 1987, Congress established 122 miles of the Merced River as a Wild and Scenic River, ensuring its natural beauty can be enjoyed for many years to come.